The blaming game

Jesus does not play the blame game, but I do.

I blame the icy cold winter for my lack of exercise since, well, since December.  Never mind that it is my own responsibility how I use my body. Never mind that winter is only doing what an orbiting, tilting planet requires of itself.  I blame winter, this one in particular, for my lack of walking.

Of course, since the beginning of human history, people have been good at blaming.  The wisdom of the creation story in Genesis shares that insight.  The man blames the woman for giving him the fruit of the tree God said not to eat. The woman blames the serpent.  Blaming abounds, we all do it, but Jesus refuses to play the blame game.

Imagine that you are sitting on the hard ground—dirt, dust, pebbles, straggly grass.   You’ve been sitting there for a couple of hours and the sun is heating the air up, although you are trying to stay in the limited shade of an olive tree.  You can’t see a thing, because you are blind.  In fact, you were born blind and you can’t even imagine what it would be like to see with eyes.

Instead you see with your feet and hands.  You see by the direction and timbre of voices, by smell and counting steps.  You have a jar of water beside you,  and even now your fingers can reach for it with a clarity of direction all their own.

You swallow the warm water and begin to hear distant voices—a yell, some laughter, a whistle;  in a few minutes, the sounds of sandals scraping dirt, kicked stones rolling downhill as people descend the road.  You can make out words now; someone is saying something about Adonai, the Lord, and about Abraham and his children.  From experience, you guess it is yet another rabbi and his disciples.  They are usually good for a few coins in your begging bowl, but that’s about it.

As they approach you hear one ask: “Rabbi, who sinned to cause that man over there to be blind.”

You sigh, “Here we go again.”  You are used to it—people talking about you and your problem as if you were deaf as well as blind, as if you had no feelings, as if you weren’t a person alive with dreams.  You feel like telling them to shut up and go away, except then you might miss out on the few coins you need to eat. So instead you steel yourself for the inevitable rambling about all the possible ways you or your parents or even your grandparents could have sinned against God or neglected some little code of the law.  Perhaps some grandparent in younger days had too proudly admired her  reflection in the nearby pool.  Or perhaps three generations ago your great-grandfather had refused to give alms to another blind beggar.  Or perhaps your mother, pregnant with you, forgot to thank God for the beautiful sunrise on the mountains.

You’ve heard all this religious speculation before.  The speakers always assume to know much, but really—they don’t know a thing about you and your story, maybe not much about God.  The trouble is, you’ve started half-believing them—that you’re to blame somehow.

Suddenly your body is alert.  You realize that the rabbi is quiet, not responding to the judgmental questions.   You don’t need working eyes to feel him looking at you, so to avoid scowling defiantly back in the silence, you simply drop your head.  No need to antagonize the rabbi and go without tonight’s meal.

The rabbi begins to speak slowly, with measured emphasis, something about how neither you nor your parents had sinned.  And you are stunned.  You are so used to the diatribe that you had yourself convinced that you must be inheriting God’s punishment.  That blindness is what you deserve.  You sense the person who spoke lowering his body to the ground, the warmth of his face  level with your own.  You smell his sweat and you hear him spit several times onto the ground.  This can’t be good, you think.  You hear fingers scraping dirt, fingers working the clay.

And then, he smears the spit-mud on your quickly shutting eyes, while he speaks to his disciples standing behind him.  “Through this man’s blindness,” he says. “you’re going to see God do a wonderful work.”

What?  For all your life you have just been a blind repository for some sin, a scab of God’s punishment. What does this rabbi mean that God is working in you?  The paste is gritty as it begins to dry, tightening the skin of your eyelids. God. is. working. in. you?  You know this rabbi is looking straight at you; you can feel it as he says to you: I am the light of the world.  Get up and go wash in the pool of Siloam.

And here is your dilemma: should you believe the goodness of that voice, believe that God might be doing a work in you…or believe the blame you have received for years?  Should you assume it is all a cruel joke or a public object lesson, that when you wash you face in the pool your still blind eyes will show the world how permanent God’s judgment is?

Still, even a vague hope is too good to leave sitting in the dirt.  So you get up, follow the well-known path your feet can already find to the pool outside Jerusalem.  You wash the dirt off your face, off your eyes. Nothing could have prepared you for what pours into your eyes: white glare and shapes moving.  Is this what people call sight? Is this what hands look like? You sit quietly for awhile, stunned, trying to take it all in, realizing God has just done something amazing in you…just like that rabbi said.

There is more, much more to the story (Gospel of John, chapter 9), so much more, but we pause here for the time being.  It is, as I wrote, the nature of humans to assign blame.  Often (but not always) the more powerful are blaming the more vulnerable, holding them responsible for something they can’t control, talking about that other group, lumping everyone together, making assumptions.

Even Christians do it to one another; they judge and blame.  I witnessed it happening over the internet this week.  A Christian NGO made a policy change for employees and there was a firestorm of reaction and blaming of one group by another…a bit of bullying too, while the whole world watched and hungry children lost their sponsors.  Because of blaming.

But you were just sitting in the blind man’s place; maybe you are able to sense some of the shame and judgment, the blame.  It wears you down.  You know.

Here’s the thing: at best blame is only a half-truth.  Blame seeks to pin responsibility on the other so that one doesn’t have to get involved or even help. (Why would someone help what God has condemned?) Sometimes passing blame onto another makes us look good, because the problem, of course is the other person’s.  Blamers don’t have to face the real truth about themselves.  Blaming blinds us to the whole truth.

But while you were sitting blind in the dirt a few moments ago, Jesus does not allow the blaming to continue.
He doesn’t listen to others talking about you, trying to pin the blame on you or your parents.  Jesus does not talk about you as if you weren’t there; instead Jesus speaks directly to you.  Jesus is not interested in whose fault it is…although, let’s face it, you and he both know there are plenty of sins to choose from…even if, of course, they are not the cause of your blindness.
Instead of blaming you, Jesus chooses a different path. He’s interested, instead,  in your being set free and moving on.  He is interested, instead, in  bringing healing into your life and restoring community in relationships.  In fact, speaking of blame,  Jesus lets the blame fall upon himself in order to restore healing and community for all others.  That’s what the cross is about.  He takes the blame of the religious leaders, the blame of the people, the blame of the Roman government, in order to bring us freedom and life and restoration to community with God.  In the cross—in a mystery—God takes the blame of the world and says enough!  It’s over.  It’s finished.  Open your eyes and see the new life I am giving you.

That’s the good news we Christians have to tell.  That’s the gospel.  Not a bunch of moral codes to live up to.

So may you know that God does not shower blame on you.  May you be done with blaming others because in the cross of Jesus, God is long since done blaming all of us.  It is no more.  And in that new space emptied of blame, may you see God working in you to bring life and restoration with others.  Little seedlings of life springing out of the spit-moistened dust.


  1. In the end God takes responsibility. God is good :